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St. Pete City Council approves seed money for ferry service

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete City Council members approved $350,000 for ferry service that would connect downtown St. Pete to Tampa. The funding comes from money the city was awarded as part of the BP oil spill settlement. The move comes as Council members continue to hold off on allocating larger funding proposals from the $6.5 pot.

The funding is contingent on funding from other sources including Pinellas County, the state and Tampa. The ferry would run as a five-month pilot during winter months when ferries aren’t used in northern cities like New York and Boston where they are common.

The city plans to rent a single ferry during those months to see how the project works before expanding into a longer-term service.

City Council chair Charlie Gerdes said he’s not worried about demand because there is so much traffic congestion in Tampa. He thinks people making the commute between the two cities for work are likely to welcome an additional transportation choice.

However, a single ferry would not provide the kind of reliable service necessary for most users to count on for transportation for professional purposes.

In previous discussions about ferry service, council members have also expressed interest in boosting attendance at Rays home games by offering additional transit options between the two cities.

Despite lacking complete funding, the city is moving forward with hunting for ferry providers for the project. The ferry project proposed by St. Pete officials is independent another being worked on in Tampa that would connect South Tampa to MacDill Air Force Base and eventually to Channelside and St. Pete if the initial project was successful.

That project is being pushed by former Tampa Mayoral candidate Ed Turanchik.

City Council members also voted to approve spending $250,000 toward the replacement of a USF research vessel known as the Bellows. The Florida Institute of Oceanography is estimated to spend as much as $500,000 annually in the city.

Both projects are contingent on outside funding for completion.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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